The History Of Lent part 4.

From “The Liturgical Year” By Dom Gueranger

When the discipline regarding fasting began to relax, the Church still retained the order of her Offices, which had been handed down from the earliest times. The only change she made was to anticipate the hour for Vespers; and this entailed the celebration of Mass and None much earlier in the day; so early, indeed, that, when custom had so prevailed as to authorize the faithful taking their repast at midday, all the Offices, even the Vespers, were over before that hour. In the twelfth century, the custom of breaking one's fast at the hour of None everywhere prevailed, as we learn from Hugh of Saint-Victor; and in the thirteenth century, it was sanctioned by the teaching of the Schoolmen. Alexander Hales declares most expressly that such a custom was lawful; and St. Thomas of Aquin is equally decided in the same opinion. But even the fast till None—i.e., three o'clock—was found too severe; and a still further relaxation was considered to be necessary. At the close of the thirteenth century, we have the celebrated Franciscan, Richard of Middleton, teaching that those who break their fast at the hour of Sext—i.e., midday—are not to be considered as transgressing the precept of the Church; and the reason he gives is this: that the custom of doing so had already prevailed in many places, and that fasting does not consist so much in the lateness of the hour at which the faithful take their refreshment, as in their taking but one meal during the twenty-four hours. The fourteenth century gave weight, both by universal custom and theological authority, to the opinion held by Richard of Middleton. It will, perhaps, suffice if we quote the learned Dominican, Durandus, bishop of Meaux, who says that there can be no doubt as to the lawfulness of taking one's repast at midday; and he adds that such was then the custom observed by the Pope, and Cardinals, and even the religious Orders. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at finding this opinion maintained, in the fifteenth century, by such grave authors as St. Antoninus, Cardinal Cajetan, and others. Alexander Eales and St. Thomas sought to prevent the relaxation going beyond the hour of None; but their zeal was disappointed, and the present discipline was established, we might almost say, during their lifetime. But whilst this relaxation of taking the repast so early in the day as twelve o'clock rendered fasting less difficult in one way, it made it more severe in another. The body grew exhausted by the labors of the long second half of the twenty-four hours; and the meal, that formerly closed the day, and satisfied the cravings of fatigue, had been already taken. It was found necessary to grant some refreshment for the evening, and it was called a The word was taken from the Benedictine rule, which, for long centuries before this change in the Lenten observance, had allowed a monastic collation. St. Benedict's rule prescribed a great many fasts, over and above the ecclesiastical fast of Lent; but it made this great distinction between the two: that whilst Lent obliged the monks, as well as the rest of the faithful, to abstain from food till sunset, these monastic fasts allowed the repast to be taken at the hour of None. But, as the monks had heavy manual labor during the summer and autumn months (which was the very time when these fasts till None occurred several days of each week, and, indeed, every day from September 14), the abbot was allowed by the rule to grant his religious permission to take a small measure of wine before Compline, as a refreshment after the fatigues of the afternoon. It was taken by all at the same time, during the evening reading which was called conference (in Latin, ) because it was mostly taken from the celebrated 'Conferences' of Cassian. Hence this evening monastic refreshment took the name of collation. We find the Assembly, or Chapter of Aix-la-Chapelle, held in 817, extending this indulgence even to the lenten fast, on account of the great fatigue entailed by the offices, which the monks had to celebrate during this holy season. But experience showed that, unless something solid were allowed to be taken together with the wine, the evening collation would be an injury to the health of many of the religious; accordingly, towards the close of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century, the usage was introduced of taking a morsel of bread with the collation- beverage. As a matter of course, these mitigations of the ancient severity of fasting soon found their way from the cloister into the world. The custom of taking something to drink on fasting days, out of the time of the repast, was gradually established; and even so early as the thirteenth century, we have St. Thomas of Aquin discussing the question, whether or not drink is to be considered as a breaking of the precept of fasting. He answers in the negative; and yet he does not allow that anything solid may be taken with the drink. But when it had become the universal practice (as it did in the latter part of the thirteenth century, and still more fixedly during the whole of the fourteenth) that the one meal on fasting days was taken at midday, a mere beverage was found insufficient to give support, and bread, herbs, fruits, etc., were added. Such was the practice, both in the world and in the cloister. It was, however, clearly understood by all, that these eatables were not to be taken in such quantity as to turn the collation into a second meal. Thus did the decay of piety, and the general deterioration of bodily strength among the people of the western nations, infringe on the primitive observance of fasting. To make our history of these humiliating changes anything like complete, we must mention one more relaxation. For several centuries, abstinence from flesh-meat included likewise the prohibition of all animal food, with the single exception of fish, which, on account of its cold nature, as also for several mystical reasons, founded on the sacred Scriptures, was always permitted to be taken by those who fasted. Every sort of milk-meat was forbidden. Dating from the ninth century, the custom of eating milk-meats during Lent began to be prevalent in western Europe, more especially in Germany and the northern countries. The Council of Kedlimberg, held in the eleventh century, made an effort to put a stop to the practice as an abuse; but without effect.  These Churches maintained that they were in the right, and defended their custom by the dispensations (though, in reality, only temporary ones) granted them by several sovereign Pontiffs: the dispute ended by their being left peaceably to enjoy what they claimed. The Churches of France resisted this innovation up to the sixteenth century; but in the seventeenth they too yielded, and milk-meats were taken during Lent, throughout the whole kingdom. As some reparation for this breach of ancient discipline, the city of Paris instituted a solemn rite, whereby she wished to signify her regret at being obliged to such a relaxation. On Quinquagesima Sunday, all the different parishes went in procession to the church of Notre Dame. The Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians, took part in the procession. The metropolitan Chapter, and the four parishes that were subject to it, held, on the same day, a Station in the courtyard of the palace, and sang an anthem before the relic of the true cross, which was exposed in the . These pious usages, which were intended to remind the people of the difference between the past and the present observance of Lent, continued to be practiced till the revolution. But this grant for the eating of milk-meats during Lent did not include eggs. Here the ancient discipline was maintained, at least this far, that eggs were not allowed, save by an Indult, which had to be renewed each year. Invariably do we find the Church seeking, out of anxiety for the spiritual advantage of her children, to maintain all she can of those penitential observances, whereby they may satisfy divine justice. It was with this intention that Pope Benedict XIV., alarmed at the excessive facility wherewith dispensations were then obtained, renewed, by a solemn dated June 10, 1745, the prohibition of eating fish and meat, at the same meal, on fasting days. The same Pope, whose spirit of moderation has never been called in question, had no sooner ascended the papal throne, than he addressed an encyclical letter to the bishops of the Catholic world, expressing his heartfelt grief at seeing the great relaxation that was introduced among the faithful by indiscreet and unnecessary dispensations.